Although Bangladesh is mostly green, but is a forest-poor country. Most of its public forest lands are located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, greater Khulna district, greater Sylhet district, Dhaka, Mymensingh and Tangail districts. Half of Bangladesh does not have public forests at all. Homestead forests seen around almost all households are important for the rural communities. They meet a significant portion of fuel wood need and house construction materials, among other things. Although it is estimated that Bangladesh has approximately 6% of its land covered with public forests, actually very little of natural forests is left today except for those in the Sundarbans in Khulna. The plantations are not to be considered as forests.
The moist or dry deciduous type of forest found in Dhaka, Mymensingh and Rajshahi districts have largely been depleted. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts patches of planted teak and rubber are often seen but solid patches of natural forest are hard to come by. In the coastal areas the mangrove forests are under threat, mainly due to prawn and shrimp aquaculture. The complete destruction of the Chokoria Sundarban, a unique patch of mangrove forest, due to export-oriented prawn aquaculture is a manifestation of the immense threat to the mangroves, the home of the Bengal Tigers.
Officially the Forest Department of Bangladesh is supposed to manage around 2.6 million hectares or 18 per cent of the land surface of the country. This is a land mass recorded as forestland when the Forest Act of 1927 came into being. However, according to the Forest Department’s latest information it now controls 10.3 per cent of land surface (Forest Department 2001). The largest category of the forests of Bangladesh are “reserved forests” which include the Sundarbans (mangroves) in the southwest, the Chittagong region in the southeast and the Modhupur tracts in the north-central region. The much smaller category of forest is the protected forests. The basic difference between the reserved and the protected forests is that the inhabitants in the reserved forest areas have no rights over the forest products but in the protected forests they have far more rights. In many cases the protected forest is an intermediate category that eventually turns into reserved forest.
Types of Forest
The three main types of public forests are:
Forests of Bangladesh can be grouped into three broad categories depending on their location, nature and type of management .which is tabled below.
1. Tropical evergreen or semi evergreen forest
The Chittagong Hill Forest have been broadly classified as the i) tropical evergreen ans ii) semi-evergreen types, which, according to a source, supply around 40% of the commercial timber. The flora of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is distinctive in character and resembles the flora of Arakan. However, the teak patches that we see throughout the Chittagong are planted forests, not indigenous to the Chittagong.
The most important commercial timber species of the Chittagong Hill Tracts used to be Jarul, Gamar, Garjan, Chapalish, Toon, Koroi, Civit, Champa, Simul, Chandul, etc. that used to grow to gigantic proportions. Most of the trees are of the evergreen type, whereas most of the tallest trees are deciduous and semi-deciduous. Some of the trees shed their leaves during the cold season and some in the summer, so the forest always looks green or, more correctly, the forest never loses its semi-evergreen appearance. However, this is a description of the forests of which very little remains today.
A part from evergreen and deciduous forests, bamboo and savannah are of immense economic and environmental value. The most important industrial use of bamboo is as raw material for the Karnaphuli Paper Mill and Chandraghona Paper Mill. Bamboo is still important item for people who live in the hills. But it is much less available today and the way the Chittagong landscapes are changing with commercial plantations (rubber and pulpwood), the bamboo is bound to become scanty for the hill people.
2. Tropical moist or dry deciduous forests
The central and northern districts covering an area of 120000 hector about 0.81٪ of total landmass of the country and 7.8٪ of the countries forest land are bestowed with Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests. In the sal forest 70% to 75% of the trees used to be the sal. In addition to its commercially valuable sal (Shorea robusta) tree, this forest has other valuable trees such as koroi, chambal, jogini, chakra, kaikha, amlaki, ajuli and gadila. Today the sal forest patches have been exhausted to such a great extent that in most places they no more represent the traditional sal forests. The moist or dry deciduous type of forest found in Dhaka, Mymensing, Tangil, Rangpur and Rajshahi districts have largely been depleted.
3. Tidal Mangrove forest
The Sunder ban is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world. The name Sunder ban can be derived literally translated as “Beautiful forest” or “beautiful jungle” in the Bengali language. The name may have been derived from the Sundari trees (Heritiera fomes) that are found in Sundarban in large number. It is unique because of its history, size, productivity and significance in balancing the local ecosystem. It is the largest mangrove patch in the world. The forest covers 10000 square kilometer of which about 6000 is Bangladesh covers (62٪) forest. The Sundarbans have an extreme length along the sea face of the Bay of Bengal, Both estuarine and swampy, this forest is below the mean high tide level and the major part goes under water during the rising tide. Everyday the tidal water sweeps the whole forest twice.
Sundarban harbors 334 species of trees, shrubs and epiphytes and 269 species of wild animals. World renowned Royal Bengal Tiger is the magnificent animal of the Sundarban. Sundari is the most important tree species in the Sundarban which is distributed over 73٪ of the reserve. Extent of Sundari is followed by Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), Baen(Avecinnia offcecinalis), Passur(Xylocarpur mekongensis), Keora(Sonneratia apetala) etc. There are some other non-wood forest products like Golpata(Nypa fruticans), honey, wax, fish, crab etc which are also of high value.
Quite a large population depend directly or indirectly on the Sundarbans. According to an Escap survey, 500,000 to 600,000 people depend directly on the Sundarbans for their livelihood. This large population includes commercial and industrial enterprises dependent on the forest products.
Categorised as “Reserved Forest”, the Sundarbans, unlike mangroves in many other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is an important source of forestry products and fish. It is very important for the local and national economy. It was producing about 45% of the total timber and fuel wood output in the 1980s (Hussain and Acharya, 1994). The Khulna Newsprint Mill is dependent on the raw materials from the Sundarbans.
W.W. Hunter gave a list of 30 principal kinds of timber found in the Sundarbans including the Sundari. Some of them are Bain, Amur, Bali, Bhara, Bonjam, Garan, Kankra, Pasur Gewa, and Sondal. The major trees are found in varied quantity in different zones of the Sundarbans. The forest is also the source of other house construction materials such as Golpata and sungrass, used for making roofs of the local houses. Honey, bees-wax, crustaceans and molluscs are other resources regularly harvested from the Sundarbans. More than 120 fish species are harvested in the mangrove area.
Tree coverage in the village forest are 270000 hector which acts as the source of a remarkable portion of the national demand of forest produces. The latest inventory exhibits that atotak of 54.7 million cu m forest produces in this village forest.
Note: The sum total of the various plants and animal in a place is known as Forest. To maintain the environmental balance of any area 25٪ forest of the total area is must there. According to the Bangladesh government total forest of Bangladesh is about 17٪. But it is only 10٪ according to UNESCO. According to FAO it is about 9٪.